Last month, AirAsia X announced that it had received clearance from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to fly in the United States. The airline was given permission to operate five Airbus A-330-343 aircraft. The Malaysian long-haul, budget airline is the first Asian low-cost airline to secure approval to fly scheduled passenger jets to the US.
Until the announcement, AirAsia X had focused on expanding in Asia, Australasia, and the Middle East. Even though no details have been made public on flight routes to the continental US, the airline will make its first flight to Hawai‘i by the end of June 2017. The flights to Hawai‘i will make a stop in Osaka, Japan as there is more demand to go to the US in Japan than in Malaysia or other hubs.
The new route is expected to continue the strong exchange between Asian countries, particularly Japan and ASEAN nations, and Hawai‘i. In 2013, Japanese visitors contributed$291 million in travel and tourism to the Hawaiian economy, ranking third in total visitor expenditures, visitor days, and arrivals. In 2014, Japan ranked 4th globally and 2nd in the Asia-Pacific as a source of visitors, with Japanese tourists spending $17 billion in the US. Visitors from ASEAN member states contributed $55 million in travel and tourism to Hawai‘i and over $4 billion in the US as a whole. In terms of sister city partnerships, Hawai’i has 23 city, province, and state relationships with Japan alone, and 26 with ASEAN partners including the Philippines and Vietnam. Japanese and ASEAN nationalities account for 35.5% and 39%, respectively of Asian Americans living in Hawai‘i.
In 2016, 4.69 million passengers used AirAsia X services. The airline raised its capacity by 22% to 5.94 million last year. In addition to the new routes to the US, AirAsia X is also considering reviving its long-haul service to London, UK.
Anh Pham is a Research intern at the East West Center in Washington, DC and Master's Candidate in International Affairs at the School of International Service, American University.